Monday, November 14, 2011

HDR from a Single Raw Photo – Nikon D90 Blog

I get asked a lot if you can make an HDR photo from a single raw file. My answer is sure you can! I've created some pretty nice HDR photos from a single Raw (NEF) file. I know a lot of HDR purest out there will disagree and say that’s not real HDR but that's OK, it still works and looks great…So I’m going to try to show you how to accomplish this. It's really easy!

Some might say why would you need to just use one raw file anyway? Well real HDR is done using your cameras bracketing. That’s 3 photos of the same subject bracketed, one underexposed, one overexposed, and one perfectly exposed. Like -150, +150, and 000 exposure values. The D90 can only do 3 shot bracketing but some other cameras can do 5 shoot bracketing. That’s all fine and dandy when your subject isn’t moving and you can set up your tripod and take 3 quick burst shots bracketed, but what if you want to HDR a moving subject or didn’t plan on doing a HDR photo and only have one raw image to use. That’s were this how to tutorial comes in handy. HDR (High Dynamic Range) from a single raw file.

This tutorial is my personal work flow to accomplish this technique. I’ll be using Photoshop Elements 10 with Adobe Raw and Dynamic HDR software. That’s all you’ll need. Adobe Raw is the main factor in this how to tutorial. Basically when you download your raw photos and go to full edit them in Elements, Adobe Raw opens first with your raw image. And this is where we will need to use the exposure slider to set your over and under exposures. So you will be opening the same image 3 times in adobe raw and saving each one as a different exposure. Each time you open your photo you’ll need to adjust the exposure slider and save as to your desktop. Once this has all been done it’s time for the fun stuff, using your HDR software. So lets get started.

Click on Images to see at full Size
#1 Open Elements Organizer, highlight your raw image and click Full Photo Edit. opening Adobe Raw.
So find your Raw image in the organizer and select Full Edit. This will open it in adobe Raw. This first image is going to be my perfect exposure so the exposure slider should be at 0.00.

#2 Adobe Raw is now open, Exposure slider is at 0.00 just were we want it. Click Open Image.
Next, click open and your image should appear in the elements editor. In the editor just simply click file > Save as. File type PSD and name it 000 to your desk top (Very important that you save it as a .PSD file so it retains its correct exposure data for the HDR software) Note: Make sure you don’t change anything to do with the image size or other editing. You can do all that after the HDR image is done.

#3 This is what you should see after opening the image from adobe raw.
#4 click file > Save as. File type PSD and name it 000 to your desk top
Now you have created your first of 3 of the same images to your desk top for later use. Now we need to repeat step #1 again to get back to step #2. This time we are going to use the exposure slider and set it to -150 which makes the image darker. Once you have done this hit open image to go back to Elements editor to save this image as -150.

#5 Once back open in Adobe Raw slide the exposure down to -150 and open image
Now we are going to save this second image as -150 to our desk top.

#6 click file > Save as. File type PSD and name it -150 to your desk top
Repeat step#1 to get to step# 2. This time we are going to use the exposure slider and set it to +150 which makes the image brighter. Once you have done this hit open image to go back to Elements editor to save this image as +150.

#7 Once back open in Adobe Raw slide the exposure up to +150 and open image.
Now we are going to save this third image as +150 to our desk top.

#8 click file > Save as. File type PSD and name it +150 to your desk top
So that should do it! You should have 3 of the same images on your desk top saved with 3 different exposure values….Now on to the fun part.

Now it’s time to open your HDR software. I’m using Dynamic HDR but I’m sure any HDR software will do like the very popular Photomatix Pro. So open your HDR software and click, Create HDR File. You will be prompted to select your 3 images you saved to your desk top earlier. Select File 000,-150, and +150.

#9 Open HDR software, Click Create HDR file, and click add images.
#10 Select your 3 images on your desk top. 000,-150,+150 and hit OK.
The next window (below) will open and we need to do a few things here before we proceed. You should notice first that all three images are showing the same exposure value. So the first thing you need to do in this window is hit the Guess Exposure button. This will read the raw image data in display the correct exposures. Note: they might not read exactly 000, -150, and +150 but they should be close. Make sure the “Align Files in Next Step” is unchecked. We would only use this option if we used our camera to bracket 3 shoots and might need to align something like clouds. But since we are only using one image we don’t need to align anything. Once you have this all done go ahead and hit OK.

#11 Click Guess EV (exposure value), uncheck Align files in next step, Hit Ok.
Your HDR software will begin making your HDR file that you are going to Tone Map in the final steps.

#12 Time to Tone Map your just created HDR file. Click Tone Map HDR file.
Once you hit Tone Map it will take a few seconds for the next window to come up. Once it has been tone mapped your HDR image is done, But to get that HDR look your probably looking for you need to play with the Sliders first. The most important sliders to use for that cool HDR look is the:

1. Dramatic Light Radius
2. Dramatic Light Strength
3. Surface Smoothness

#13 Use your 3 most important sliders to get the look you want. Then hit Process and save….Your done you did it! My personal next step is to open the new finished image in my editor and make all my normal edits….
For this image I used in this tutorial I only did the following to get this finished look. Dramatic Light Radius slider to 12.02, Dramatic Light Strength to 1.00, and Surface Smoothness to 0.28 and that’s it…Once you play around and get comfortable start playing with other buttons like, filters, gamma, and all the others...

I hope you'll give this a try! please let me know if I forgot something or you have a general question! I'm no english scholar so I hope my grammar wasn't too bad. lol

Books on HDR Photography you might be interested in:

Complete Guide to High Dynamic Range Digital Photography
HDR Photography Photo Workshop
Practical HDR
A World in HDR
High Dynamic Range Digital Photography For Dummies


Ben said...

You referred to using Adobe Raw with PSE 10. Is adobe RAW a plug-in for PSE 10 or a menu option or a stand alone adobe software product. I have PSE 9 but haven't yet explored its full menu set.

Scbbbc said...

Ben, Really to me Adobe Raw has always been a mystery! I never see it anywhere on my computer and thats since version 6 of elements lol. But it is always there when I go to edit a Raw (NEF) file in elements so I'm sure it will appear when you try the same in elements 9. Don't try finding it in elements menus its no where to be found....but it works when needed. I have seen other types of raw converters but haven't tried is definitely a plugin but i do believe its already pre-plugged into elements.

Ben said...

Thanks very much for the feedback Scbbbc. I will take a look tonight and let you know how I go. Cant wait to try this out, though i need to get the HDR software first.

John Marra said...

That's awesome, I can't wait to try this out.

resimler said...


champignon said...

DxO optics pro have the HDR singls shot feature. It works very well and very easily !
You can check on of my shots

Scbbbc said...

Thanks for the tip Champigon!